Of all the blog posts and articles I’ve written, I think THIS is my all-time favorite piece of writing. I wrote it back in 2012 and am delighted to repost it. Enjoy!
A Thanksgiving memory. . .
I’m sitting at a long table, filled with deep-down good people. Anthony & Melissa have gathered us into their home. Across from me is a beautiful Indian woman. She has a disarming smile and a hearty laugh. She turns those clichés into something real.
She asks me what I do and when I say that I’m a wedding officiant, she becomes excited and asks: “What do you think is needed to make a marriage a success?” I hesitate because I sense her question comes from a place of disappointment.
So, I tell her: “listening.” It’s both a true and safe answer. Although I believe this is the key communication skill, somehow, when I give her this answer, it doesn’t seem adequate.
I glance at Anthony & Melissa. I flash on other couples who nourish me and I wonder—what makes each of their marriages a “success?” These couples constantly support each other, but that, too, seems like a worn-out answer.
And then I flash on a moment Anthony & Melissa shared earlier. They’d just finished setting-up this Tuscany-like family style table. I came into the garden and glimpsed them in a warm, hugging embrace.
Exhausted from the preparations, they simply fell into each other’s arms—and smiled. It was not so much a sexual embrace as it was intimately confirming that: We did it.
My grandmother once told me that real love is not those champagne moments filled with fireworks. Rather, real love is a reassuring whisper in the dark of night. And that is what I witnessed in the garden—the intimacy of a reassuring whisper.
This is our feast. In our home. Built on all the moments I wanted to kill you. Built on all your surprises that both delighted me and puzzled me. This night is our gift to these wonderful and wacky people, who, for better or for worse, are a part of our home.
As I looked down the table, with all its mismatched chairs and mismatched guests, I thought: if we can’t give thanks for this moment, what can we give thanks for?
And then, the woman again asked me,“Is that all that’s needed for a successful marriage—listening to the other?”
I look around the garden and think—no, listening is not enough. Rather, here, this table, this is what makes for a “successful marriage.” This table is the gift of two people dedicated and pledged to creating a life—a life-giving life—that rises above the rituals of their individual pasts. Pasts filled with dysfunctions and secrets and questions. A dedication that lets this day swirl with good, hearty questions: “Do you have enough? Do you need more? Eat up. Don’t be shy. Are you sure you’ve had enough?” Questions asked while serving and laughing.
What makes for a successful marriage? In that moment, as I flash on my family of couples, I’m reminded that it is the generosity with which two people juggle the hundreds of little things that go into the routine of daily life. For it’s the sum total of those tasks and interactions that allow my coupled friends to make their home in each other, and there to find comfort and safety in the reassuring hospitality of each other.
As the table is cleared by all of us who want Melissa & Anthony to relax I remember the movie, Babette’s Feast. It’s the story of two pious sisters living in a stark and dreary Denmark of the 19th century. When their young maid wins 10,000 francs in a lottery, she puts on a French feast. The sisters invite their elderly friends, each of whom is resistant to the overwhelming smells and tastes. And at the very end of the evening, the General, a former suitor of one sister declares, “I now know in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible.”
I look around and wonder—are all things possible? Tomorrow we wake with our familiar demons. Melissa & Anthony return to the routine of kids, pets, and work. But this meal reminds us of what is possible. And without each other, this feast would not have been possible. No table. No food. No nourishment. Not like this. Not here. Not with these people.
Is it too little to say that here—in this night of reassuring whispers—here can be found the answer for what makes a marriage successful?
Your wedding is like this Thanksgiving meal and its “perfection” comes not merely from all going “smoothly.” No, it comes from all your guests leaving feeling nourished. Feeling full from the reminder that life is good and worthy of all that is good and true within us.
You take each other as husband & wife and in that taking you give to family and friends a “loud,” reassuring whisper that all is possible, as you urge them on––eat, have more, don’t be shy! In the doing of this you become an “I.” And in the becoming of an “I” you are able to do the giving of your “I Do.”
Your “I Do” celebrates your commitment to being a generous person.
Are you thinking of writing personal vows to each other?
If so, I invite you to check out my book –
How to Write Your Vows: Giving Voice to What Is Deep Within